Florence - 'Unloving love'

Florence 200

Florence Nightingale – through the eyes of local artist Louise Jordan

Louise tells ArtCare about the research she undertook for ‘Florence’, which inspired her new album of songs, recorded in lockdown as the ‘Florence’ performance itself has not been able to take place at present. ArtCare are not responsible for external links in this article. Photo above by Richard Budd.

Tuesday 12th May 2020 marks two hundred years since the birth of Florence Nightingale. As a songwriter and performer who has written about women’s history for the past six years this might have seemed like an obvious subject for a new show. However, my previous work focuses on lesser known women’s history – for example in ‘No Petticoats Here’ I wrote ten songs with the intention to bring women that most people had not heard of, to the forefront of the centenary commemorations of the First World War. Ada Yorke was the matron responsible for the running of Red Cross Hospitals in Hampshire whilst Dorothy Lawrence was an orphan and aspiring war correspondent who travelled by bicycle to the front line in France and dressed as a soldier so that she could report on what she found.

My most recent touring show ‘The Hard Way: the story of working class suffragette Hannah Mitchell’ came about as the result of my research into less familiar perspectives of women’s fight for the vote in 1918. So writing about Florence Nightingale did not seem like an obvious choice for me. However, when I visited the local archives I realised there was much more to Florence’s life and legacy which I would soon become determined to share through my work as a musician.

As an artist a project becomes much more personal when the subject I’m working on has local links. I spent my teenage years in Salisbury and was a member of the youth theatre ‘Stage 65’ and in between tours I work as a freelance music workshop facilitator. So I was fascinated to find out that Florence has a number of connections to Salisbury.

I found out that Wiltshire and Swindon History Centre, the county’s local archive, has a collection of documents relating to Florence Nightingale because of her connections to the Pembroke family of Wilton House. Sidney Herbert was the son of the 11th Earl of Pembroke and ran the Pembroke family estates at Wilton House. He and his wife Elizabeth were friends of Florence Nightingale’s; Florence was invited to stay at Wilton House during one of Elizabeth’s pregnancies.

Visiting the archive at Wiltshire and Swindon History Centre, I was fascinated to read some of Florence’s very detailed (and long!) papers on a variety of subjects including efficiency and hospital administration, hospital construction, the army medical school at Chatham, reading rooms and libraries for soldiers in army barracks, reports for sanitary improvements in India as well as letters from Florence Nightingale to Sidney Lord Herbert of Lea defending her charges against Dr Hall (Inspector-General of Hospitals during the Crimean War) and “a copy of the official agreement between Sidney Herbert and Miss Florence Nightingale for the conduct of the female nursing staff in the English military hospitals in Turkey”, 18th October 1854. Holding Florence’s papers in my hands prompted me to write the song ‘Words’ about the feelings of intrigue, joy, satisfaction and connectivity that research in the archives offers. The song has become part of the live show ‘Florence’, which will now be performed in February 2021 after its postponement from May 2020.

Reading various biographies of Florence (including those by Mark Bostridge and Lynn McDonald, which I have found to be particularly informative) led me to realise that Florence Nightingale had a further link to Salisbury through its Infirmary. In her earlier years, before the Crimean War of 1853- 1856 which brought her to national attention, Florence was interested in hospitals and healthcare as well as in statistical analysis relating to populations and trends. Florence had petitioned her family for the opportunity to train as a nurse at Salisbury Infirmary, however her family were not keen for Florence to be involved in a profession that was, at the time, associated with drunkenness and immorality. They did allow Florence to visit a training establishment for deaconesses in Kaiserswerth Germany, some distance from the family home where she gained an insight into medical and nursing care.

By the time her request to train in Salisbury had been rejected, Florence had written ‘Cassandra’, which discusses family expectation of women. Florence’s conflicting relationship with her family – who she also writes about with love and affection – led me to write the song ‘Unloving Love’. This song also features in the live show and the album I recorded in my home studio during lockdown after realising I would not be able to share the live performance in 2020.

When I approached the ArtCare team at Salisbury District Hospital about Florence Nightingale’s connections to the hospital’s own archives, I was provided with copies of the letters that Florence had written to a number of members of staff as well as a letter to her cousin Edith Joanna Bonham Carter. “My dear and gallant Edith, I must say I think you are right. Five years’ night work takes so much out of a woman (most doctors say one is enough). But I am very sorry, for you. But only think how much you have done in those five years – being training mistress and night superintendent in one.”

When I was researching ‘Florence’ in 2019 for this project, I asked a nurse at Salisbury District Hospital how she looked back on her career of nursing and she told me “ten years of night shifts took its toll”.

Louise Jordan’s album ‘Florence’ is released on 12th May 2020, the 200th anniversary of Florence Nightingale’s birth. The album is available from her online shop.